Customer Experience: Balancing Surprise and Simplicity
POSTED : March 18, 2015

As customer experience strategists, we are seeing two popular competing approaches to customer experience (CX)—“surprise and delight” versus “effortless simplicity.” These are both valid CX approaches depending on the customer’s context, and this has led to a fair bit of confusion around how people speak about CX design. At PK, we feel it’s time to clear that up.

The second approach, “effortless simplicity,” is about reducing the amount of effort and time required on the part of the customer. Matthew Dixon & Co., authors of “The Effortless Experience” explain that most transactions (e.g. checking out of a hotel, booking an airline ticket or paying a parking fine online) are best improved by reducing the amount of interaction with the customer. According to their research, a customer service interaction is four times more likely to foster disloyalty than loyalty. As a result, they propose that the key to CX design is to reduce the amount of customer service interactions altogether. With this approach, the customer experience doesn’t foster “surprise and delight”—it almost disappears. The goal here should be to simply get out of the customer’s way and let them get on with their lives.

So how are we to balance these two seemingly divergent approaches? In customer experience design, the approach you take should be dependent on the channels in question, the characteristics of your brand, and the expectations of your customer. Most transactions, especially those in digital channels, improve with increased simplicity and ease of use. The less information the customer needs to provide, the lower the wait times, the fewer keystrokes, the better. CX design in this context has a lot more to do with getting out of the customer’s way, and letting them fulfill their mission as quickly and easily as possible. But this should not always be the case, especially with in-person experiences. A premium purchase guided by the personal touch of a well-trained sales associate, the brief conversation with a barista, or the extra moment spent with a family doctor can all be worth that extra bit of time and effort.

In the practice of architecture, there is a saying, “if you can’t hide it, make it a feature.” In other words, anything that is visible to the visitor needs to be meaningful, and everything else needs to disappear completely. The same can be said for CX: reduce the customer’s effort where you can. Everywhere else, align the experience to brand.

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